I began my birthday (which was this past Mother's Day, now 11 days ago) a bit on the tired side. I was behind on some readings for class on the Monday following, so I set down for a fine breakfast at Jam on Hawthorne, then relocated to Sound Grounds for coffee and Plutarch with my readings. Then began the adventures.
My friend D. happens to share the same birthday with me. So, after a couple of hours fortifying myself with caffeine and urban community monographs, I strolled over to Pine State Biscuits and purchased some of the finest and most extraordinary biscuits I've ever tasted, fresh from the oven, and brought them over to Laurelhurst Park for D., where D. and assorted other friends were slowly gathering.
The weather was very strange and inconstant, one moment brilliantly sunny, the next pounding with rain. We were tossing a football around, earnestly praising each others' feeble skill, as sports neophytes necessarily must, when some small children, wandering away from a larger Mother's Day picnic table uphill from us, absently joined in.
Now, I'm not one to do much of anything by half-measures. I can troop out legions of directors who will affirm my willingness to try practically anything at full tilt. Teachers and instructors who habitually shake their heads, disbelieving my audacious imprudence. Cousins and uncles who think I dine on danger, washed down with unhealthy quantities of hazard. When the rain started in, and some of the lesser souls trembled with cold, I stepped up my game.
Suffice to say that, while everyone got pretty wet, myself and the small children got spectacularly mud-splattered. Cassandra, who is 8, got in some trouble from a (dare I say) rather uptight and unforgiving parent, who was upset about tracking mud into their car. No doubt said parent eats kittens, looks like a potato and votes Republican, but who am I to judge? Mitchell, who is six, was less afflicted with offending uncleanliness, and so spared parental wrath. Poor Cassandra had to pitifully wash at a drinking fountain before allowed to reenter the ambit of familial acceptance. I commisserated as best I could, enduring the cold, disapproving glances of respectable grown-up types.
See, the thing is, if you're going to toss around a football, you mine as well mean it. You have to own your game, dominate the field, refuse to tolerate anything less than your own invincibility. Thus generations of American football movies. On my birthday, how can I model anything less for the little ones?
Fortunately, Cassandra seemed not to blame me, nor was she herself all that discouraged. Later, we played wiffleball, in which, for the first time in my entire recollection, I successfully connected bat with (wiffle)ball, not once but three or four times! You have to understand, I was the kid in grade school who was so abysmal with bat and glove (and yet so damn respected and trusted and secretly pitied) that I was consistently chosen for umpire. And yes, of course, of course I had to dive for the base a few times. I mean, my kit was already pretty well dirtied, what did I have to lose? You can't say you've played ball unless you truly mean it.
And then somehow the group fell to encouraging me to jump through hula hoops held vertically over the ground, so that, after much more tripping and mudslinging, I was even filthier. It was a glorious afternoon.
I then made my way up the hill to my father's house, where a grand convocation of the Susi clan was taking place. Every year, the forms and semblance of a corporate board meeting are invoked to go over the numbers and strategies of the Susi Ventures Corporation LLC, such as they are. Only my father and one or two of the aunts take these forms seriously; the rest of my aunts, uncles, cousins and my Grandma use the occasion to preen and politely jockey for position in the shifting mosaic of my family.
My Grandma gently chided me for being so scarce at family functions. My cousins laughed at my dirtiness. Extended-leaf dining tables groaned under the heaping, massy piles of squid, rice, pork, and other less readily identifiable, more dubiously edible dishes. Since my Grandma notoriously forged birth certificates at will, a single cake was used to celebrate my birthday as well as hers and my Aunt Marisol's, all three of us supposedly born all on the same day. As we only had so many candles, and to flatter my Grandma's vanity, I am officially 7, Grandma is 10, and poor Aunt Marisol is an advanced 14.
I use my rank as the eldest of the US-born cousins to benevolently arbitrate chess and checker games, rein in the hyperactive and encourage the reticent of my cousins. I vaguely remember being small, and surrounded by a seemingly endless crowd of loving big people, shielding and feeding and playing with me, so many kuyas. I was forcibly drawn apart from the family in my pre-teens, then re-introduced, as one returned from an enforced exile, in my late teens and early twenties through now. This conferred an additional, prodigal mystique, making me somehow more beloved and yet forever distant. Aunts and uncles regularly confide their insecurities, their confusions with our strange and overwhelming adoptive country and their apprehensions and hopes for the family. I am the consigliere of my family. Would that I could be better worthy of the rank.
But with my younger cousins, things are less complicated, and it pleases me to play a part in what must be, for them, a similarly endless crowd of loving big people shielding and feeding and playing with them. I cut them slices of the joint birthday cake, and they say, "Thank you, Kuya Paul," and I blink fiercely with happiness.
I wrapped up my birthday by biking home, showering and changing, and then biking down to the Ambassador Karaoke Lounge, where a whole crowd of fellow Portland theatre Taurii magically appeared, and we sang and drank and sang for quite some time. It was here that I learned, for the first time, that my birthday--11 May 1981--coincides with the death of Bob Marley. As if I weren't already hauling enough of a burden. Then I went home and slept.